Current island retailers can find comfort that more proposed changes are being made to lighten a Town of Fort Myers Beach outdoor display zoning code in the downtown zoning district.
Last week, an informal "working group" held a second workshop, resolved some issues and offered amended regulations to the established 2003 ordinance regarding beach merchant outdoor displays.
Chaired by Councilman Dan Andre, the session featured members of Town staff, Local Planning Agency and Beach business people either directly or indirectly affected by the issue. Proposed changes will be crafted into a second draft ordinance -one that involves allowing current business owners who had legal outdoor display permits in 2013 to retain the right to have such displays in a "patio" setting, but does not allow such owners to transfer their permit or new business owners to display on a "patio."
If the proposed amendments to the outdoor display ordinance stand, Teeki Hut on 1028 Fifth St. will not have restrictions on the amount of merchandise on its “porch.”
It will be brought back to LPA for a public hearing and a formal recommendation to Town Council before those officials hold a public hearing to adopt an ordinance and give it legal binding.
At the workshop, consistent policy direction was sought to provide fairness to all involved. The key is to make all parties happy by having easier-to-enforce regulations, having affected businesses come into compliance, but not allowing displays to run rampant.
"In general terms, the draft ordinance hopefully is easier to understand and, from our perspective, easier to enforce," said Town Community Development Coordinator Walter Fluegel. "The apparent issue will be in the language to acknowledge and allow those that were out there to remain out there."
Town Attorney Marilyn Miller will be responsible to craft the language for the new draft ordinance.
"It sounded like everyone seemed to be OK with the concept of limiting it to the porch or enclosed merchandise area so long as the existing (businesses) that were out on the patio could stay," said Fluegel.
The issue to establish better clarity with zoning sections in the Town Land Development Code was discussed by the "working group" in August and the LPA earlier this month.
Last season, a code enforcement sweep of outdoor displays was conducted due to a reported complaints stemming from proliferation of displays.
"At the same time, a lot of retailers were not coming into apply for an annual outdoor display permit. Instead of going out and doing a selected enforcement that was complaint-driven, we decided just to do a sweep of all outdoor display," said Fluegel. "It highlighted an issue that the process and the rules were very confusing."
At its first workshop, the "working group" developed an outline of talking points desired to amend the existing ordinance. Afterwards, a draft ordinance was brought to the LPA, which reviewed and discussed it then recommended to bring it back to the group for another workshop.
This time around, the difference between porches and patios was defined. The proposed amendments to the ordinance mainly addresses merchandise being within a more enclosed area like an outdoor porch instead of a "market" style patio area, alleviated restrictions on the amount of merchandise one can have in an outdoor display and the requirement of point of sale being indoors.
"A porch provided a very clear and defined space, elevated with a rail. A patio can have a slippery interpretation. It became tricky in terms of defining how much do we allow in a patio area," said Town Zoning Coordinator Leslee Dulmer.
The proposed amendments could also stop the proliferation of patio-style outdoor display, like if someone were to come into Helmerich Plaza or Seafarer's Mall area and try to create a "flea market" by placing concrete pads down.
"Be careful for what it is going to look like out there if you allow t-shirt racks all over the place," warned Fluegel.
Business owner John Richard asked for all businesses to display a "funky but not junky" community vision.
Joni Hermansen of Joni's Gallery, one of the "patio" displayers who does not have a large enough porch, stated she really does not believe her property owner will build one if asked and needs her outdoor display to show potential customers her business exists, since the building is pushed back and surrounded by obstacles.
Business space lessee Robin Thurston has subletted her individual kiosks to business owners since 2006, but that "alley-way" space is on sand in Times Square at 1010 Estero Blvd. She has already faced judgement from Town's special magistrate since that space is on a nonconforming location. That case is being appealed.
"We have not been able to find any zoning approval there or any official zoning signature or anything that gives us any indication that it was out there legally and approved by the Town," said Fluegel. "You cannot 'grandfather' something that has been achieved illegal."
Enclosing that property area would shut off a long-time, well-used pathway from the beach to Times Square.
Local Color owner Anita Cereceda, whose family had an art shop in Times Square since 1983, confirmed there has always been a business at that location.
"That business was 'grandfathered.' It was basically a lean-to shed that leaned up against that building (currently occupied by Times Square Bazaar)," she said.
The shed was torn down by Hurricane Charley, but business has continued since.
Other Beach zoning districts regarding this matter will be looked at in the future.